MAC PAC Comes to Harrisonburg

Image from the MAC PAC Facebook page
Image from the MAC PAC Facebook page of the Harrisonburg gathering

Recently, ten or eleven political activists from across the state created a new political action committee called the Millennial Advocacy Council or MAC PAC for short.  As a way to introduce themselves to Virginians, they have been holding gatherings around the Commonwealth.  As the group includes several of my Facebook friends, when they came to Harrisonburg on their third stop on their tour last night, I decided to check out what they had to say.

About a dozen people attended the meeting at Capital Ale House in downtown Harrisonburg including: several leaders of MAC PAC, some local college activists, and Delegate Steve Landes (R-25).  At the beginning, the leaders of MAC PAC introduced the leaders of their group.  As far as I could tell, each either worked for an elected official, another PAC, the Republican Party, or was a leader of a Republican group.  This information sparked a concern in my mind that the PAC might be little more than a front group for the Republican Party.  However, next they began discussing their principles, focusing upon a number of issues facing millennials, such as dealing with student debt, the future of social security, increasing home ownership, and the like.  These matters sounded pretty good, so that was a positive development.  But, then they explained that only millennials could hold any position of leadership in their group.  Although the term millennial has been defined in a variety of ways, MAC PAC labels it as a person born between 1982-2000.  Given that I was born about 17 months before this range, it is disappointing to learn that I could have no real part in this group, other than donating to them, simply based upon date of birth.  For someone who grew up watching Nick At Nite, to quote Maxwell Smart, I “missed by that much.”

The MAC PAC folks followed up by taking some questions from the group.  I tried to express my concern about the PAC advocating for a political party instead of for a certain set of principles though I was assured this was not the case.  Nevertheless, a bit later in the night one of the leaders of MAC PAC encouraged the attendees to invite their friends to become members of their local Republican Party units.  Given the various loyalty oaths and restrictions required for participation in many Republican Party functions, this call to join the GOP seemed like MAC PAC had abandoned at pretenses of being a nonpartisan organization and was simply establishing itself as another wing of the Republican Party.  Although that might very well be what some people are looking for, I have no interest in being a cog in the Republican machine or getting the largest possible piece of the Republican pie.  Therefore, I excused myself and departed before the gathering had concluded.

As you might imagine, I left the meeting feeling rather disappointed.  I suppose that if you fit the MAC PAC definition of a millennial and are also wed to the Republican Party then the organization might be a good fit for you.  However, as I don’t seem to fall into either of these two categories, it doesn’t seem like a group that speaks either to me or for me.  Oh well.

Tearing Out A Man’s Tongue…

Political dialogue is important, which is why I am Facebook friends with a variety of politicians and “like” a lot of political parties and organizations.  I try to maintain ties with a variety of Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, Constitutionalists, and independents.  You shouldn’t simply surround yourself with people who agree with you all the time, as doing so places you in a very small circle and doesn’t allow much room for thought and the possibility of change.  However, I do insist that my contacts treat each other civilly.  For example, several years ago a fellow Ron Paul supporter I knew got into a heated argument with one of my Republican friends and ended up declaring that it would be better if his mother had aborted him.  Regardless of your political affiliations, such a remark is totally over the line.  One can have disagreements about policy without delving into personal attacks.

Photo from January 19th, 2015
Photo from January 19th, 2015

I appreciate my Facebook network of friends who are elected officials, but have discovered that several have gone missing.  After doing a bit of digging I determined that they have blocked me.  I believe Delegate Dickie Bell (R-Staunton) blocked me first.  Delegate Bell and I got into a scuffle on my blog back in late 2013 after he crafted a bill that would have drastically changed the opt-in program for organ donation.  I had argued that making this change would, in effect, mean that your body would be assumed to belong to the state unless a citizen declared otherwise.  As you might imagine, this article generated considerable negative press and he ended up pulling the bill, which I praised him for doing.  Since that time Delegate Bell and I have not really communicated (even though we posed for a photo earlier this year) and at some point in 2015 he took the step of blocking me.  I believe it was around the same time I wrote a piece chastising the Augusta County GOP for releasing an ad telling voters to vote Republican in order to “preserve our Christian heritage“.

IMG_2980Next was Marshall Pattie, a Republican Supervisor from Augusta County.  I first met Pattie as we were both running for office.  I was seeking a seat on the Harrisonburg City Council while he sought the Republican nod for the Virginia Senate in the 24th district.  Over about the next year and a half we had several conversations.  Although I did my best to remain objective about the race on this site, I discovered that sometimes he would tell me one thing and then later do or say something totally contradictory.  Here are two examples:  On June 30th, 2014, I attended Marshall Pattie’s official campaign kickoff in Waynesboro.  After the event, he came up to me and told me that he wanted to help my campaign for council but was worried that the Republican leadership would be upset if he did, especially as he was a recent convert to the party.  I explained that I appreciated his support but understood his situation and didn’t ask him for any public help.  However, the next time I saw one of his posts on Facebook, it was a photo of him wearing stickers of my opponents and going door-to-door on their behalf.  Shortly after the November 2014 election, I was told that he spoke at the local Young Republican meeting and declared that Harrisonburg would have elected two Republicans to council if only I had not been in the race.  I asked him if he actually said these words and he confessed that he did, but promised that he would not say it again because he did not believe it to be true.  I didn’t really communicate with him further as I felt these two events had amply proven him to be untrustworthy.  I am not alone in this sentiment, as I know other activists (Republicans and Democrats) who have had similar experiences with him and have drawn the same conclusions.  If you closely examine the figure in the middle of the photo from the 2015 July 4th parade in Staunton, you will see it is Marshall Pattie.  If looks could kill, eh?

The third, believe it or not, is the Republican Party of Virginia.  About once a month or so I would comment on something they posted either offering a factual correction (if they posted something in error) or urging them to actually adhere to the principles found in their creed.  I was also very troubled when the Virginia Republican Party recently took what I thought was an extraordinary step, kicking Delegate Mark Berg (now I-Winchester) out of the party.  I still believe that action was unjust.  However, on the evening of December 12, 2015 I discovered that the party had blocked me from commenting on anything else.

Delegate Mark Berg, local activist Laura Logie, and Delegate Ben Cline
Delegate Mark Berg, local activist Laura Logie, and Delegate Ben Cline

I’ve gotten into disagreements with just about every elected official from time to time.  Delegate Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) and I have had differing opinions on what constitutes an isolationist.  I supplied a local paper with a photo from the announcement of Delegate Ben Cline’s (R-Rockbridge) Democratic opponent.  I believe Delegate Cline is one of the best delegates and I was not trying to hurt his reelection chances.  Instead, I did it because I felt the paper had fallen down on its responsibility to provide important news to their readers concerning their political choices.  I successfully lobbied the General Assembly to defeat Delegate Steve Landes’ (R-Augusta) party registration bill.  However, in none of those cases did either the elected official or I rush to block the other over these issues as they were, in my opinion, all political fair game.

In full disclosure, I have blocked four people on Facebook.  Three were Republicans staffers and one was a Libertarian (or perhaps better labeled as a former Libertarian).  In each case these people attempted to threaten me into silence.  Whether you agree or disagree with a position or an individual, the use of coercion, be it either through physical or emotional threats, is completely unacceptable.  There is a certain line I will not allow anyone to cross and therefore terminated all further interactions with these individuals.

Censorship+most+often+also+means+you+fear+the+truth+_3d2d1a4bbf6fcae55cdde627c46ab85bAfter I discovered the RPV block I was reminded of a moment at the end of the first season of Game of Thrones.  In the episode a bard had performed a song that King Joffery found offensive.  Acting as Joffery often did, the king presented the bard with a choice, for his insolence he would either lose his fingers or his tongue.  In response, Tyrion Lannister offered this thought on censorship:  “When you tear out a man’s tongue, you are not proving him a liar; you’re only telling the world that you fear what he might say.”

Yes, we all have differing opinions and sometimes these differences can strain or even destroy relationships.  I have not kept track of how many Facebook friends I have both gained and lost due to political conversations.  And, although unfortunate, that is fine.  However, the act of blocking a person, not because they are intentionally nasty, but due to disagreements does make one wonder if a person or group is simply afraid what would happen if other people knew this information and adopted these viewpoints.

Anyway, I want to thank the vast majority of elected officials and political parties who have not blocked me or anyone else simply as a result of posting something they didn’t like.  In the long journey ahead there will be times when we agree and times when we disagree.  However, I hope we can always remain civil and never sever the lines of communication without reasonable cause.

Scenes From the Polls 2015

In the grand scheme of things, there were no great upheavals in Virginia’s 2015 elections.  Although both Republicans and Democrats hoped to make gains in the Virginia Senate, at the end of the day the Republicans maintained their 21-19 majority over the Democrats.  Here in Harrisonburg all of yesterday’s races were uncontested, save for a senate race in a heavily Republican district.

This year, instead of campaigning for a candidate or a cause, throughout the day I stopped by a handful of polling places in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County to take photos of the candidates and activists working at the polls.  My goal was to capture as many of the candidates as possible.  Although I had the itinerary for several of them, most were either elsewhere or didn’t both to work the polls as they had no opponent.

Here are the photos in chronological order:

Angela Lynn Withdraws

Angela Lynn and Ellen Arthur
Angela Lynn and Ellen Arthur

Yes, you read the headline correctly. Angela Lynn, the Democratic candidate for the 25th District Virginia House of Delegates seat, has withdrawn…not from the race, mind you, but from her speaking engagement with the Massanutten Patriots (also known as the Harrisonburg Tea Party).

Although Ms. Lynn was supposed to be the featured speaker at the group’s monthly meeting later today, I have received word that due to another commitment she will not be there. Instead attendees will hear from Will Wrobleski, campaign manager for Delegate Steve Landes, the Republican incumbent for the 25th district.

Now, I’m sure that some Democrats and some tea partiers would be pleased by this news. After all, most tea parties are heavily slanted toward the Republican Party and thus Democrats would argue that Ms. Lynn’s time could be better spent elsewhere. Similarly, some tea party goers likely don’t have much of an interest in hearing from a Democratic candidate. However, I encourage both sides to think differently.

Although it is true that some tea parties are joined at the hip with the GOP, openly endorsing all Republican candidates, encouraging their membership to vote Republican and join the official party, and only inviting Republican candidates and elected officials to speak at their meetings. I would argue that those tea parties have failed in their mission and have become part of the problem that they were originally created to fight against. Therefore, I have pressed for a different agenda during my time as part of the leadership team of the local tea party.

To me, one of the most important skills a person can learn is to think and reason for him or herself. In politics one shouldn’t merely swallow the talking points of a political party or politician whole. So too in religion one should not accept every word of a spiritual leader simply because of his or her title. Even though the tea party isn’t as open-minded as I’d like, I’ve pushed for a variety of speakers representing various political parties and philosophies.

For example, in 2012 I pressed for a speaking slot for a representative from Libertarian Gary Johnson’s presidential campaign. In addition, that year I lobbied for a city council forum featuring all of the candidates: Republican, Democratic, and independent. In 2014, although a candidate for office myself, I sought a similar forum at the tea party including all of my opponents. I had to more or less plead with the Democrats to show up and even then only one of the two did so.

Yes, if we are to consider the situation from a purely selfish perspective, I should have tried to monopolize the tea party for myself. After all, I had spent far more time with the group than all of my opponents combined. They knew me and I think many of them liked me (shocking isn’t it?). And, to the best of my knowledge since that meeting, none of the candidates, including the ones who were elected that November, have returned to visit the tea party. But, I felt there was something more at stake than this one mere election, even though the outcome could very well affect me personally.

Looking back, after the 2012 city council forum, one tea party member came up to me and said that he really liked what Democratic candidate Deb Fitzgerald said that night. And do you know what? I agreed with him. Although I was a member of the Republican Party at that time, at that event Ms. Fitzgerald earned one of my three votes. Of course being a member of the GOP I couldn’t tell anyone as much. But it was a gratifying experience helping my fellow tea party folks see beyond the party labels and get to know the candidates for who they actually are. The same held true in 2013, when I tried to set up similar speaking engagements for Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Robert Sarvis. I doubted that many had ever heard of a Libertarian…other than the caricature that the Republican and Democrats paint of them. Drawing from my own experience, I had heard my first Libertarian candidate at a tea party meeting back in 2010.

And so, as was the case in 2012, 2013, and 2014, I encouraged the tea party and Angela Lynn to come together, not necessarily so that the members would be enamored with her, but rather so they could understand where she stands on the issues and ask her questions in a one-on-one fashion. In addition, she would have the chance to learn about the tea party too. After all, it is far easier to dismiss or marginalize a person you have never have never met. By comparison, Republican Steve Landes has done a much better job, having spoken to the tea party on a variety of occasions over the years. However, by cancelling her appearance, it is doubtful that any of the tea party folks will ever hear her message.

Again, my purpose isn’t to promote or hinder either Landes or Lynn, but rather encourage folks to explore the tangible differences between the two and discover which of their choices matches most closely with their own ideology. Perhaps one of the greatest gifts you can give a person is a reminder that they are able and allowed to think and reason for themselves. Alas, with Ms. Lynn’s rejection of this offer, it seems that my efforts to continue to spread political dialogue and promote intelligent thinking beyond the tired Republican vs. Democrat rhetoric has hit a snag. As you might imagine, I’m quite disappointed with her decision. At one point we had scheduled a slot for two Democratic candidates at the tea party. With this cancellation, we now have zero. It is frustrating to spend one’s political capital on someone who doesn’t seem to appreciate it. Given the trend this year, I don’t know how much longer the tea party leadership will continue to consider my suggestions to include candidates other than the Republicans.

And so, as the headline of this article proclaims, Angela Lynn withdraws…from speaking to the local tea party tonight.

Virginia Free in Harrisonburg

IMG_3012On Thursday morning, the political group Virginia Free hosted an event on the campus of James Madison University.  It was a panel presentation featuring JMU professor (and former Delegate) Pete Giesen, Delegate Steve Landes, and Levar Stoney from Governor McAuliffe’s administration. For about an hour, the three individuals, along with Virginia Free Executive Director (and former Delegate) Chris Saxman spoke on a variety of issues, including a sizable segment about the Virginia government.

Afterward, they fielded questions from the audience; during this time, both Angela Lynn, the Democratic challenger of Steve Landes, and April Moore, the Democratic candidate in the 26th Senate district, spoke briefly.  Delegate Tony Wilt was also present, but as an observer.

Angela Lynn and April Moore
Angela Lynn and April Moore

At one point, one member of the audience declared that he was offended that the speakers sometimes used the phrase “Democrat Party” as opposed to “Democratic Party” declaring the first term to be pejorative although he did not really explain why he thought so.  Later, when one of the panel members said Democrat Party again, the observer interrupted with his same objection.  In addition, quite a few people in the audience spoke about Medicaid expansion in the state and were upset with Delegate Landes’ opposition to doing so.

In addition, Virginia Free offered attendees a scorecard ranking the General Assembly members according to their pro-business stance.  I found it rather curious that they declared Senator Water Stosch to be the best member of the Virginia Senate alongside Senators Frank Wagner, John Watkins, Frank Ruff, and Tommy Norment while declaring that Senators Reeves, Black, and Garrett were among the worst and that Senator Chap Petersen was the absolute poorest member of that body.  On the House of Delegates side, they gave high marks to Speaker Bill Howell and Delegate Ed Scott while also ranking Delegates Mark Berg, Charniele Herring, and Bob Marshall unfavorably.  Wanting to learn more, I asked Mr. Saxman about the ratings, especially the 2013 ranking and he explained that everyone who voted in favor of Governor McDonnell’s transportation tax increase was given a score of 100%, while those who opposed it were rated as 0%.  Their stance on that one issue and how they chose to rank the various legislators likely tells you everything you need to know about where Virginia Free and where they stand on the issues of taxes, government spending, and the proper role of government.

Although I certainly appreciated the presentation, based upon what I learned, I am concerned that Virginia Free and I might have a fundamentally different opinion on what the term “pro-business” means and who the best and worst members of the General Assembly are.

The Staunton 4th in Photos

IMG_2984Yesterday, the residents of Staunton, Virginia held their annual 4th of July parade in Gypsy Hill Park.

As is typically the case, politicians, candidates, and political parties representing Staunton and Augusta County marched to show their support.  And, like last year, Senator Emmett Hanger (R-Augusta) was separate from the rest of the Republicans.  In addition, Angela Lynn, the Democratic challenger in the 25th House of Delegates, was similarly apart from her party.  The other Republican elected officials pounding the pavement included: Delegate Dickie Bell (R-Staunton), Delegate Ben Cline (R-Rockbridge), Representative Bob Goodlatte (R-Roanoke), Delegate Steve Landes (R-Augusta), and Supervisor Marshall Pattie (R-Augusta).  Ellen Arthur, who seeks to replace Delegate Cline, walked with the Democrats.  The Libertarians were there for Will Hammer who is running against Delegate Bell.  In addition, the one Republican and three Independent candidates for Augusta County Sheriff also each had a float in the parade.  And, lest we forget, the Augusta County Alliance had an entry opposing the proposed Dominion Power pipeline.


The Joy of Competition

Most people view competition as a good thing.  In the world of the free market, businesses competing for land, labour, capital, and profit helps ensures many things: services are offered fairly, employees are given just compensation, and customers get a high quality product for a reasonable price.  However, when it comes to the issue of political competition, I regret to say that our nation is in a woeful state.

Later this week, voters will head to the polls in Great Britain to select members of the House of Commons.  Presently, twelve parties have seats in that chamber.  Moving across the channel, we find varying numbers of parties in other legislatures.  For example, France’s National Assembly has seven political parties and Germany’s Bundestag boasts five.  Shifting over to Asia, we find that India, often billed as the world’s largest democracy, holds an astounding twenty-five parties in its Lok Sabha, and Japan’s National Diet has ten different political parties.  Looking at the neighbors of the United States, Canada has six parties in their Parliament and Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies holds seven.  Quite a lot of choices, wouldn’t you say?

However, as you undoubtedly know, only two parties hold seats in either the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.  The situation is the same in Virginia as there is no member of the General Assembly outside of the Republican and Democratic parties in both the House of Delegates and the Virginia Senate.

Why is it that we typically have only two choices in this country, and, even worse, often are faced with candidates running unopposed?  Well, part of the problem deals with gerrymandering.  Given that in Virginia we allow legislators to draw their own districts, effectively choosing which voters they wish to represent, they usually do their best to gather citizens who are of their same political persuasion.  Perhaps you’ve never seen them before, but here are maps of the House of Delegates and Senate districts.  I should note that I did not create these images and unfortunately, the person or organization who crafted them did not mark them so they could be given proper credit.  Scan   Scan 2

As you can clearly see, some of the districts are extremely peculiarly shaped, avoiding certain areas, lumping others together, and dividing cities and counties for maximum political advantage.  As one example, the 24th Senate district, pictured in mustard yellow slightly north of the center of the state, will be holding a Republican primary in about a month.  As you can see, this district stretches from the West Virginia border, jumps over the Blue Ridge Mountains, and encompasses some of the people of Culpeper, combining voters from unrelated communities separated by over a hundred miles.  It should be noted that prior to redistricting the 24th was more compact, remaining almost entirely on one side of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  However, as the incumbent, Senator Emmett Hanger (R-24), faced a relatively close race from a challenger in the southern part of the district in 2007, the lines were redrawn in such a way to exclude this territory to make certain that his previous opponent, Scott Sayre, had been gerrymandered out of the 24th.

Another issue which squelches competition is the fact that Virginia only recognizes two political parties.  As such, if a candidate from outside these parties wishes to run, he or she must collect signatures to appear on the general election ballot while the Republican and Democratic candidates do not have to face this hurdle.  In addition, the law states that if other candidates jump through the hoops to become eligible, their names must appear on the ballot after both the Republican and Democrat.  In case you are wondering, research has shown, all other factors being equal, that being listed first on the ballot does provide a small electoral advantage.  Also, while the Republican and Democratic Parties are allowed to hold nomination primaries, paid for by the Virginia taxpayers, no other political party or group can do so.  Not the Libertarians, not the Greens, not the Constitution Party, nor anyone else.

As a way to help promote political competition in Virginia, prior to the 2015 legislative session I approached both my delegate, Tony Wilt (R-Rockingham) and senator, Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham) with an idea to help level the political playing field.  My proposal was that each candidate, regardless of party or lack thereof, would be required to collect the same number of signatures to appear on the ballot.  In this way, the Republican and Democratic candidates would have to follow the same requirements as everyone else.  Unfortunately, both my representatives declined.

In the 2015 session, two legislators proposed bills that would expand political competition.  Delegate Sam Rasoul (D-Roanoke), sponsored HB 1463 which would decrease the threshold for official party recognition in Virginia from 10% of the statewide vote to 4%.  That bill was defeated in committee and, although there was no recorded vote, when I investigated further I was told that Delegate Steve Landes (R-Augusta) was the person who killed it.  Senator John Edwards (D-Roanoke) offered SB 766 which would decrease the signature threshold for independent and third party statewide candidates to make the ballot from 10,000 to 5,000.  This bill met a similar fate, dying in committee at the hands of Republican legislators.

At the same time, two legislators offered bills that would restrict political participation even further.  Senator Mark Obenshain’s  SB 1060 and Delegate Steve Landes’ HB 1518, are pieces of legislation that would mandate party registration.  Although one can legitimately make the claim that only Republicans and Democrats should be able to select their own party nominees, when you combine that idea with the fact that districts have been heavily gerrymandered to prevent competition, other parties are more or less forbidden to be recognized, and that taxpayers would be forced to pay for party contests that they wouldn’t be allowed to participate in, it is easy to realize this kind of legislation would only diminish political choices further.  Fortunately, both bills were defeated.  Although the Libertarian Party has increased activity in Virginia, as witnessed in the 2013 and 2014 elections, and would likely draw more from the Republican voter base than the Democratic, the simple fact that some legislators would work to stifle competition for their own political advantage is truly horrifying.

As an additional barrier to allowing for greater political choices, there is the issue of the debates.  Whether at the presidential level, or, as was the case with the 2013 Virginia gubernatorial and the 2014 Virginia senatorial, some candidates have not been allowed to participate in the debates.  In 2013, both Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Ken Cuccinelli worked together to prevent Libertarian Robert Sarvis from taking part in “their debates”.  And, in 2014, Democrat Mark Warner and Republican Ed Gillespie agreed to continue the political charade by refusing to appear on the stage with Sarvis.  This type of exclusion is utterly disastrous for competition, will ensure that most voters will falsely believe that they only have two choices, and thus will make certain that they will never have more than two options.

Several months ago, Our America Initiative created a video outlining this troubling situation:

As illustrated by these various examples in Virginia and nationwide, this country has a serious problem with a lack of political competition not found in other representative democracies.  Due to a series of institutionalized rules, laws, and agreements, politicians have gravely limited competition to two parties or less in order to maintain their own power base.  As such, unlike the case with the free market, legislators and political parties have gamed the system and thus have little incentive to improve by following their supposed principles or listening to voters.  After all, when you only allow people a choice between Coke and Pepsi, the public will never know the flavour of RC Cola…or Dr. Pepper…and certainly nothing as radical as Peach Snapple.

Society, philosophy, and life in general has demonstrated that competition is exceedingly positive for the individual in other facets of life like business, religion, and education.  Shouldn’t we apply that principle to politics as well?

What’s Going on In the 24th?

By all accounts, the race for the Republican nomination in Virginia’s 24th District Senate seat is a curious affair.  Two candidates are vying for a convention that may or may not happen.  Three candidates are competing for a primary which also is uncertain.  The final nomination process hinges upon a court case, with a preliminary decision expected either next week or the week after.  What an odd state of an election!

However, what is even more peculiar is how the campaigns are interacting with each other and the public (or perhaps the lack thereof).  For example, on Wednesday, March 18th, Senator Emmett Hanger was the featured speaker at the monthly meeting of the Rockingham County GOP.  Both of his primary challengers, Dan Moxley and Marshall Pattie, were conspicuously absent and, although I arrived at the end of the meeting, there didn’t seem to be a trace of campaign materials for any of the candidates at that meeting, including Hanger himself.  By comparison, I did see Delegate Steve Landes (R-25), who is also running for re-election this year, with a sizable stack of bumper stickers in hand.   From my observations and well as reports I’ve heard from others, this seems to be a common trend for the 24th district race.  None of the candidates seem to be making a big push for support among the party faithful…at least publicly.

Now, perhaps the traditional campaigning is all going on quietly behind closed doors.  And, if so, that sort of maneuvering is exceedingly unusual.  After all, wouldn’t you expect to see the typical bumper stickers, yard signs, and various campaign brochures?  Wouldn’t the campaigns have their staffers clearly visible in the audience, shaking hands, handing out materials, and thanking individuals for their support?  I cannot recall the last time I’ve seen a stealth campaign succeed, but is the strategy each have chosen to employ?

As one example, I’ve never met Donald Sheets (one of the two candidates running in the convention), nor have most people that I’ve spoken to.  Although it is highly likely that his campaign isn’t serious, given the actions of the Hanger, Moxley, and Pattie campaigns, one does start to wonder if he has some sort of hidden network lurking under the surface given the peculiar actions of his opponents.

That’s not to say that the campaigns are inactive, for example, the Pattie campaign is holding a meet & greet in Elkton this evening.  But, in general, things are exceedingly quiet right now.

I don’t mean to be too hard on any of the four, but to me this race is one of the strangest affairs I’ve ever seen.  What the heck are you all doing!?  Yes, it is uncertain if the nomination will come down to a convention or a primary, but if I were an advisor to any of the four campaigns (which I am not), I’d recommend buckling down and making sure that either the candidate or a staffer was present at every single GOP meeting in the 24th district between now and whenever the court decision is announced, with supporters clearly labeled, with a healthy supply of campaign materials in hand.  Or is it that no one has bothered to tell me that the traditional methods of campaigning no longer work?

Obenshain vs. Petersen on Party Registration

Senators Obenshain & Petersen from their respective Facebook pages
Senators Obenshain & Petersen from their respective Facebook pages

On Tuesday, SB 1060 came to the floor of the Virginia Senate.  Sponsored by Senator Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham), this bill would bring the state voter registration by political party.  Doing so would create closed or semi-closed primaries where only declared members of a political party (and perhaps independents) could participate in a given party primary.

A fair number of liberty-minded Republicans and Libertarians have taken to Facebook to oppose SB 1060; some of us have contacted Senator Obenshain’s office as well.  I listed my objections to this idea in a piece last week.  In addition, both Deb Fitzgerald, the Chairman of the Harrisonburg Democratic Party, and I offered our concerns in Wednesday’s issue of the Daily News Record.

On the Senate floor, Senator Obenshain was the lead proponent of the bill while Senator Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax City) was the most vocal opponent.  Senator Obenshain declared that by passing party registration, Virginia would conform to a majority of other states.  In addition, doing so would grant political parties the power to “choose who gets to participate in that…process.” As Senator Petersen stated, “there are two winners from this bill.  One is the Republican Party, the other one is the Democratic Party.  The parties are going to get so much more power if this bill passes.  But let me tell you who is going to lose.  It’s going to be ordinary people that just want to participate in elections.”  As Senator Petersen goes on to say, those who are outside the two major parties (such as Libertarians), or others who desire to switch political parties could find themselves completely excluded from the process.  Unfortunately, the Republican Party of Virginia has already moved in this direction, reviving the much reviled loyalty oath and changing their party plan last year by expelling members who participate in the nomination process of other parties.  In addition, Senators John Watkins (R-Powhatan) and Dick Saslaw (D-Fairfax County) also explained why they would not support party registration.

The vote that followed was exceedingly close, 19-21, following mostly along party lines.  Every Republican voted in favor except Senators Watkins and Walter Stosch (R-Henrico) who joined with the Democrats to defeat SB 1060.

HB 1518, Delegate Steve Landes’ (R-Augusta) party registration bill also died yesterday as the Privilege and Elections subcommittee failed to recommend reporting it to the floor of the House of Delegates.

Below is the full debate on SB 1060.  Thanks to Blue Virginia for posting this video to YouTube.

Registering for the Party!?

Senator Obenshain
Senator Obenshain on Lobby Day 2015

For those who don’t know, Virginia is an open primary state.  That means that when a political party holds a primary, any registered voter can participate so long as he or she does not vote in the primary of more than one party for a given office.  Whether you consider yourself to be a Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Green, Constitutional, Socialist, something else, or an independent, you can vote in most every primary.  Well, that situation may be about to change.

This year, there are two bills before the General Assembly that create party registration.  They are HB 1518 patroned by Delegate Steve Landes (R-Augusta) and SB 1060 by Senator Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham).  Presumably the purpose in crafting this legislation is to prevent members of an opposing party to participate in primaries.

In general, most grassroots activists I have spoken with thus far are opposed to party registration.  Some cite the fact that they don’t want to officially be a part of any political party while others have concerns what would happen if these party lists ended up in the wrong hands.  Some compare it to the idea of gun registration.  They argue that if we don’t believe it is appropriate for the government to have a gun registry, why would we allow them a political registry?  I oppose it too, but for different reasons.

In response to these bills, I have spoken directly with Delegate Landes and with a staffer for Senator Obenshain.  As mentioned, on Lobby Day, I encouraged several members of the General Assembly to vote against these bills as well as speaking at length with my senator’s political director about my concerns.  Although I was informed that they would send me information as to why the senator is proposing such legislation, the only answer I have been given after several days is that “this bill provides either party, Republican or Democrat, greater control over who can participate in their party’s nominating process.”  Unfortunately, I expect that I shall hear nothing further.

Therefore, let me share my objections with you.

We live in a country grounded in political freedom.  With the exception of felons who have not have their voting rights restored, everyone eighteen years or older who has properly registered to vote is allowed to do so regardless of race, religion, gender, or political preference.  Here in Virginia we can enjoy this freedom in primaries as well.

As a result, I’ve voted in just about every primary that I can.  This has included voting in: the 2004 Democratic presidential primary, the 2006 Democratic senatorial primary, the 2008 Republican presidential primary, the 2012 Republican presidential, house, and senatorial primary, and the 2013 Democratic statewide primary.  Some people vote for the weakest candidate in the hopes to defeat him or her in the general election.  Others do so in order to vote for the candidate whom we believe most closely aligns with our values.  But whatever the reason, positive or negative, many of us appreciate the ability to cast our vote freely and according to the dictates of what we think is best.  Unfortunately, these bills for party registration would chip away or completely eliminate that freedom.

Did you know that party primaries are not paid for by the political parties that hold them but rather the Virginia taxpayers?  Given that information, can you, in good conscience, support a bill that forces a citizen to pay for a primary and also forbids them from taking part in it?  In what universe is that considered just?

Another objection stems from the political demographics of the state.  In some places, like Rockingham or Augusta County, the Republican nominee will almost certainly be the winner of the general election.  In others, like Williamsburg, Charlottesville, or Alexandria, the Democratic candidate is a near certainty for victory.  Imagine yourself as either a Democrat living in a Republican area or as a Republican living in a Democratic stronghold.  Assuming you wish to have any voice in who represents you in government, your best and perhaps only hope is to participate in the primary of the opposing party so that you can vote for the most like-minded candidate.  These bills would ensure that if you were part of a political minority your opinion, no matter how small, could be completely ignored.

Also, it should be pointed out that primaries are unjustly applied.  Although the Democratic and Republican Parties can hold primaries at taxpayer expense, others such as the Libertarians or Greens cannot do so as they are not officially recognized political parties.  In fact, there are a considerable number of laws in place in Virginia to keep new and existing parties from being recognized, such as the onerous 10% hurdle.  Senator Obenshain’s bill, SB 1060, adds yet another layer stating that it “allows an official political party to retain that status as long as at least 15 percent of the Commonwealth’s registered voters are registered as affiliated with that party.”  It is exceedingly difficult to create new political competition through starting up a new political party when the current ones have laws to keep them firmly entrenched.

Given the poor job the Republican Party’s leadership has done in recent years through enacting the largest tax increase in Virginia history, continuing to expand the authority of the government, and creating rules that erode our political freedom to support the candidate that best supports our values and voting in any primaries that we are forced to pay for, why in heaven’s name would Delegate Landes and Senator Obenshain propose bills which give the two major political parties even more power?  Without competition, there is no incentive to become better, more principled, or more responsive to the people who entrusted you with power in the first place.

On the last page of my political memoir (which I hope to get published one of these days) I quote Richard Obenshain, father of Senator Obenshain, who stated that “the most important goal in my life is to have some significant impact in preserving and expanding the realm of personal freedom in the life of this country.”  Will enacting party registration in Virginia further this goal of expanding freedom in politics?  And, if not, grassroots activists have the right to know why in the hell our legislators are proposing such a plan!